Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life: Finally, a moral boundary the Bush administration is not wiling to cross .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Sharpening our wits on the grindstone of Life

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Finally, a moral boundary the Bush administration is not wiling to cross

Last week we celebrated the 35th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s historic "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Since then, the science of mankind has moved forward by leaps and bounds. Now, if the powers that be have their way, science may come to a screeching halt.

Just as Congress finally passed some meaningful legislation - expanding funding for stem cell research - good ol’ dubya steps in and throws down his first-ever veto. Although he quietly vetoed the bill in private, he publicly announced it in a carefully arranged press conference surrounded by frozen embryo babies. Is it just me, or did it look like one of the babies flipped him off during the announcement?

As Cragg Hines points out,

For the second time in as many years at a White House stem cell event, Bush was shown against a background of parents with children who were born from "adopted" embryos. Never has the White House bothered to point out that, according to Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., majority Senate manager of the stem cell bill, these children are the tiny exception to a quantum rule.

The children are precious and to be loved. But, as I noted in the earlier column, although there are currently an estimated 400,000 cryogenically preserved embryos, few will ever be "adopted." Since 1997, only 128 deliveries or ongoing pregnancies had resulted up to May 31, according to Specter.

And in a column published before dubya’s veto, Hines elaborates:

And speaking of morality, what's moral about forbidding research with embryonic stem cells that otherwise will be destroyed? Opponents of wider research contend stored embryos can be "adopted" by otherwise childless couples. That sounds almost heroic, as there are an estimated 400,000 embryos that have been cryogenically preserved. But Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., majority manager of the Senate measure, said that even with federal funding to encourage "adoption," it's an almost unknown phenomenon.

Using figures from the Snow Flake Organization, a federal grantee, and the National Embryo Donation Center, Specter said that as of May 31 there have been since 1997 only 128 deliveries or ongoing pregnancies from such embryos.

"Which makes it conclusive that these 400,000 embryos will either be used for scientific research or thrown away," Specter said, as donor couples stop paying storage fees or otherwise authorize destruction of their remaining frozen embryos.

So where are the 400,000 self-righteous couples stepping forward to adopt these snowflake embryos? Most likely, they’re pounding their chests in church, crowing about the sanctity of life while vowing to end the welfare state. Step up to the adoption board, folks, and start walking the walk. Let’s see that self-righteousness in action, rather than just the usual rhetoric.

Specter correctly characterized the clash as "the conflict ... between ideology and science," which has arisen repeatedly over the centuries. And by ideology he essentially means religion.

Specter ticked off some famous and not-so-famous cases, including Columbus' trouble with Spanish bureaucrats and Galileo's trouble with the Roman Catholic church.

Perhaps most apt was Specter's reference to Michael Servertus, whose research was stymied when Pope Boniface VII issued a papal bull in the 13th century effectively outlawing cadaver dissection.

"This stopped the practice for over 300 years and greatly slowed the accumulation of education regarding human anatomy," Specter said.

Or for equal aptness, try the attempt in the 18th century by the Anglican divine Edward Massey to stifle work on vaccinations because "diseases are sent by Providence for the punishment of sin."

Sound familiar? We have some fundamentalists today who seem to feel the same way. Natural disasters are proclaimed to be the will of God, punishing us for tolerating homosexuals, promoting promiscuity, and voting for Democrats. Likewise, vital medical research should be hobbled so that it doesn’t interfere with God’s punishment of diabetics, old people, and celebrities that fall off horses.

The House moved quickly to sustain the president's veto of legislation that would have allowed the federal government to underwrite research on embryos discarded at fertility clinics. The House vote, 235-193 in favor of federal funding, fell 50 votes shy of the two-thirds needed to override a veto.

During House debate, Rep. Gene Green, D-Houston, a supporter of stem-cell research, said the president had "thumbed his nose at the millions of Americans who suffer from incurable diseases."

Congress didn’t have enough votes to overturn his veto, so research that can save many lives and improve the quality of life for millions of stricken Americans will be put on the back burner so that our holier-than-thou president can appease the few supporters he has left: fundamentalist zealots. And speaking of pandering to the zealots, three of the Republican presidential hopefuls backed bush’s veto: Sens. Sam Brownback of Kansas, Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and George Allen of Virginia. Only the GOP hopefuls who stand a chance of being nominated without riding on dubya’s coattails, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and Sen. John McCain of Arizona, chided the panderer-in-chief for his obviously political maneuver. Of course, by doing this they were doing some maneuvering of their own - away from his dismal approval (or, more accurately, "disapproval") ratings.

Bush’s reason for the veto, like the man himself, is simple:

"This bill would support the taking of innocent human life in the hope of finding medical benefits for others," Bush said in announcing his veto. "It crosses a moral boundary that our decent society needs to respect."

There are two vital insights into the Bush administration’s mindset in this announcement. One is that it’s okay to support the taking of innocent human life to "spread democracy", but not to save other innocent human lives. The second is that the Bush administration has finally found a moral boundary that it’s not willing to cross.

By vetoing funding for this research, he apparently made good on a promise he made in 2001 (back when some people still believed what he said). Better late than never, right? Not really. Now, most Americans think we should expand stem cell research. The only ones that don’t are his base, which is constantly shrinking as he stumbles through domestic disasters and international blunders.

Ironically, Bush’s strategy seems to have backfired. The void in funding created by dubya’s veto is being filled by state funds, as evidenced by Ahnuld’s $150 million loan to California’s voter-approved stem cell research institute.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday ordered a loan of up to $150 million to the state's voter-approved stem cell research institute, catapulting California into the lead as the nation's top public funder of the divisive research.
Institute President Zach Hall said that once grant proposals are received, dollars could flow to research by early next year. Ironically, Hall noted, Bush's first-ever veto - based on his opposition to the destruction of embryos in some forms of embryonic stem cell research - served California well. "I think with one stroke, the president energized [the institute's] program," he said.

And California is not the only state to bump up funding for stem cell research in the wake of Bush’s folly.

Connecticut, Maryland, Illinois and New Jersey have approved some state funding for the work. And on Thursday, the governor of Illinois announced that he was diverting $5 million from the state budget for stem cell research - also in response to the Bush veto.

So by vowing to oppose federal funding of this research, he’s managed to quadruple state funding.

With these kinds of results, I can only hope he’ll back some of the GOP incumbents in the upcoming mid-term elections. We could use a change in leadership.


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